Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Monday, August 4, 2014

In Small Packages

By the time I got to high school, it was abundantly clear my growth spurt was over.  My short stature even earned me the nickname "Stub" given to me by one of the tallest guys in our graduating class.  Difficulties continued in college especially waiting in crowds to enter the auditorium on campus for concerts.  Even today, after large sporting events, I fight the panic of not being able to see in the crush of people moving toward the exits.

Being a smaller person allows you to have a tried and true empathy for all the students who pass through your classroom at the elementary school level.  In your heart of hearts you understand how a taller person can glance around a room or scene missing someone as if they are invisible, not necessarily because of age but because of height.  Debut author illustrator Mike Curato gives us a peek into the world of a big-hearted being in Little Elliot, Big City (Henry Holt and Company, August 26, 2014).  

Little Elliot was an elephant.

Looking at Elliot it's easy to see how he would stand out in a herd of elephants gathered around a watering hole.  He happens to be white with pastel polka dots.  He is also rather small in size.

Place this little guy in a big city where he lives and he just about disappears among the throngs of people, cars and buses and tall buildings.  Things others find easy are downright challenging for him.  You try catching a cab when your dimensions are similar to a fire hydrant.

Even though the easiest of tasks at home takes extra effort, Elliot is one positive pachyderm looking for the smallest gifts life offers.  He does not miss what others might.  There is one other thing too.  Elliot loves cupcakes.

His quest for this delicious delectable bit of confection is not without its own trials.  But...even down in the dumps, this little elephant takes notices.  A trunk can reach new heights especially with the help of a friend.

Spare text, single explanatory sentences or a meaningful phrase, penned by Mike Curato tell Elliot's story of life in the big city.  Each choice made by the narrator is careful; opening the way for pictorial interpretation.  By the second sentence readers feel a compassion growing for this little elephant.  There is not one among us who has not felt different than others on at least one occasion.

Rendered in pencil, then scanned and colored in Photoshop (thank you for answering my questions Mike Curato), the soft warmth of the illustrations begins on the dust jacket.  Two things stand out on the front; the joy of Elliot and the depiction of the words big city as if they are lighted buildings in the cityscape.  The back asks a question and gives an answer while picturing a turn of events.  The opening and closing endpapers are patterned in pale blue and pink dots acting as frames for images of cupcakes, Elliot and his quirky-eared pal.

Beginning with a rich two-page spread, Mike Curato introduces us to Elliot as he walks down the steps of his row house in the city.  With a turn of page we are inside, noting the decor from decades earlier as well as the framed pictures of desserts on the wall.  As Elliot emerges from the subway (and next, below, as he waits for a train) we become fully aware of his size amid the vehicles, people and buildings of the busy street.

Providing interest to engage his readers Curato alters his image sizes; two-page and single page to accentuate a thought or a series of smaller visuals to define a statement. His shading, the play of light and shadows, is marvelous.  This coupled with the color palette assists in creating a feeling of nostalgia, a comfort associated with home.

I love every single illustration in this book!  Elliot sitting in the sink to wash his dishes, the little girl on the wordless two pages noticing him standing off alone in the crowd, and the picture of the cupcakes, Elliot's trunk peeping just above the counter with his friend perched on the end, a monetary bill waving in his extended hands are three of my favorites.  I think I actually sighed when I saw the last two pages of the night skyline, the outline of the lighted bridge and my eyes drawn to the happy setting looking through the window in Elliot's home.

I predict a HUGE gathering of readers of all ages (and sizes) falling in love with Little Elliot, Big City, a heartwarming tale of friendship found, written and illustrated by Mike Curato.

Please follow the link embedded in Mike Curato's name to access his website.  A blog tour will be beginning soon.  All the information is on this page.  Follow this link to the publisher's website for an Activity Kit.  UPDATE: Here is an interview of Mike Curato at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  Here is the link to a blog post released on August 26, 2014 by Mike Curato.  Follow this link to Matthew C. Winner Let's Get Busy podcast with Mike Curato.

I received an ARC of this title from my favorite independent book store, McLean & Eakin Booksellers of Petoskey, Michigan.  I have a copy on order with them.  I hope you, too, can obtain your copy of Little Elliot, Big City from your favorite independent book store.  Be sure to check your nearest public library also.

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